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Discover Holiday Books About Friends Old and New

Share Discover five new holiday books that will bring the joy and spirit of the season to your classroom.

Few people -- even those who don't participate in the religious ceremonies of Christmas or Hanukkah -- can resist participating in the spirit of love, generosity, community, and joy that pervade the holiday season. Each of the five books featured here will help bring that spirit to your classroom.


Welcome Comfort Book cover My favorite new book of the season is Welcome Comfort (Philomel Books), by Patricia Polacco. This book, the story of an (almost) ordinary man, a lonely boy, a friendship, and a legacy, finally answers the eternal question Who is Santa Claus? The only question remaining is -- Is it true?

As the custodian, Quintin Hamp knew and loved all the children at Union City Elementary School. Welcome Comfort was a new student at Union City Elementary School -- an unloved foster child, teased because he was fat. When Quintin Hamp and his wife, Martha, befriend the boy, they become the only family Welcome's ever had.

The first year of their friendship, Quintin and Welcome often talked about Santa Claus. Welcome didn't believe in Santa. "Seein' is believin'," Welcome said. "No, child. Believin' is seein'," Quintin replied. Santa won't come if you don't believe hard enough, he told Welcome again and again. Welcome tried to believe, and for a moment, in a wonderful Christmas Eve dream, he almost succeeded. But, of course, it turned out to be only a dream.

As the years passed, Quintin and Welcome spent more and more time together. Quintin and Martha were there when Welcome graduated from high school, and they were there on his wedding day. In fact, the only time Quintin and Martha weren't there was on Christmas Eve, when they went up North. It was just something they did alone every year.

Finally, after many years, Quintin retired from his job as superintendent of maintenance, and Welcome was asked to take his place. And that was the very same year Quintin and Martha invited Welcome to spend Christmas Eve up North with them. And what a Christmas Eve it was!

Welcome Comfort was inspired by a real Quintin Hamp, a school janitor in Union City, Michigan, the home of author Patricia Polacco. It's a lovely story of joy and faith and friendship and a source of hope and inspiration for every child who has ever felt that he or she didn't quite fit in. Students will enjoy the larger-than-life characters depicted in the bold and colorful illustrations. And they'll love the surprise ending.

This is a book you'll want to read to them again and again.


An Elf for Christmas Book Cover Every page of Michael Garland's An Elf for Christmas (Dutton Children's Books) is a painting. And every painting is a delight. With or without the story, students won't be able to tear themselves away from the big, bold, and brightly colored illustrations in this amusing book about a wayward elf.

At Michael Garland's North Pole, the elves are tiny and the toys and people and animals are larger-than-life. The relative size of the toys is an unfortunate circumstance for Tingle, one of Santa's toy-making elves. Exhausted by the last-minute rush of Christmas Eve, Tingle falls asleep in a toy airplane. Before he wakes up, he's boxed, wrapped, and delivered to a boy named Joey, who lives far away from the North Pole. Frightened and alone, Tingle must find his own way home. But Tingle is a resourceful and very smart elf, and this is, of course, a Christmas story with a happy ending. In the end, Tingle's adventures return him to Santa safe and sound.

Children of all ages will enjoy listening to this silly story or reading it on their own. And they'll be mesmerized by the pictures. This book is just plain fun!


The Beautiful Christmas Tree book cover This Christmas, Houghton Mifflin has published a new edition of Charlotte Zolotow's The Beautiful Christmas Tree, another story of someone who doesn't quite fit in.

In the story, a very unfashionable Mr. Crockett buys the only run-down house in a very fashionable neighborhood.
And then, right out front, where everyone can see, he plants a scrawny, half-dead twig of a pine tree. The neighbors are shocked -- and more than a little afraid of this strange man who washes his own windows and sweeps his own stoop and plants ugly twigs instead of beautiful blooms.

But through the years, the scrawny twig grows into a sturdy tree. Starlings, cardinals, grackles, and doves make the tree their home, lured by the breadcrumbs Mr. Crockett sprinkles around its base. Over time, Mr. Crockett's pine tree becomes the most beautiful sight in the neighborhood.

Then, on a Christmas Eve, years after Mr. Crockett moved into the neighborhood, carolers passed the now lovely tree. Their singing startled the birds, and they flew up into the tree, "settled in the branches like living ornaments," and began to sing along with the carolers. "It was a chorus of love, and Mr. Crockett knew this is what Christmas was meant to be."

This story of a simple man happily living a simple life was first published more than 30 years ago. Its message is as meaningful today as it was then, though its look has been updated with new illustrations by Yan Nascimbene. The crisp, linear new illustrations add to the feeling of simplicity in the book and in its message.


Madeline in America book cover Two more old friends have reappeared on the new-book list this Christmas. And the first of these is Madeline.

It's been 60 years since Madeline first appeared in that "old house in Paris, covered with vines." And she's finally making her first visit to America. According to the book's introduction, Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline's creator, wrote and illustrated a short booklet called Madeline's Christmas in Texas in the early 1950s. The booklet was distributed to Neiman Marcus Christmas shoppers.
More than 40 years later, Ludwig's grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, found his grandfather's manuscript and pen-and-ink sketches and completed the story.

In Madeline in America, Madeline -- still young after all these years -- continues to live with Miss Clavel and the other girls in Paris. Until two days before Christmas, when she discovers that her great-grandfather has left her all his earthly wealth -- specifically, a ranch in Texas. So Miss Clavel and the "12 little girls in two straight lines" board a plane to Texas. But then you can read about the rest of their Texas adventure yourself in Madeline in America.

Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) also contains two other previously published Bemelmans Christmas stories -- The Count and the Cobbler and Sunshine. The Count and the Cobbler, a story of how a cobbler's children finally got new shoes, first appeared in a 1935 edition of Harper's Bazaar. Sunshine, a silly story of a New York landlord, was originally published in Ladies Home Journal in 1949. Both are Christmas stories in the tradition of Madeline.


Lyle at Christmas book cover Another old friend, Lyle, the Crocodile, has also returned this year in Bernard Waber's Lyle at Christmas (Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Miflfin). In this holiday tale, Lyle's friend Mr. Grumps is down in the dumps. He's having the holiday blahs. Despite the best efforts of Lyle and many others, Mr. Grumps can't find the Christmas spirit. Finally, Loretta, Mr. Grumps's cat, has "had it up to her whiskers" with Mr. Grumps's grumpiness and runs away.

With Loretta on the loose, Mr. Grumps is more than down in the dumps.
In fact, he's downright miserable. But in spite of his grumbling, Mr. Grumps has many friends who pitch in to find Loretta. Despite some typical Lyle misadventures, in the end Lyle reunites Mr. Grumps and Loretta. And Mr. Grumps says "good-bye forever to the blahs."

Lyle at Christmas is a book for all Lyle fans -- and for anyone who's ever heard the words, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about!"

The books highlighted in this week's Education World BOOKS IN EDUCATION story are available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate a copy of the book you want, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

  • Welcome Comfort, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, is published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
  • The Beautiful Christmas Tree, written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Yan Nascimbene, is published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.
  • An Elf for Christmas, written and illustrated by Michael Garland, is published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
  • Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales, by Ludwig Bemelmans and John Bemelmans Marciano, is published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Press. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.
  • Lyle at Christmas, written and illustrated by Bernard Waber, is published by Walter Lorraine Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.
Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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